Today, on “Obnoxious Family Members”

1. Scenario One:
My cousin, let’s call her M, came down to visit the extended family this weekend, and she brought her two kids. She used to live just south of the city where I live, and so we’ve spent a good amount of time together in the past few years (including staying overnight with her toddler while her second was being born). It’s been a change, because they lived hours and hours away when we were kids – we got together once a year for our family’s beach week.

She and her husband have given us some baby items over the past few years. I had never really discussed our baby making plans with her, but she knew we wanted to have kids; we were just vague on the timeline. We were talking on the phone on Friday, and for some reason, I decided to open my trap about what’s been going on (or not) with my uterus (MISTAKE). What follows is our exchange about my misadventures:

SARAH: …so, after all that, we did get pregnant once. Unfortunately it ended in an early miscarriage. I was pretty upset about it. Still am.
M: Well, you know I had both of mine early.
SARAH: [frantically trying to remember if M has ever told me about a miscarriage before] M, you had miscarriages? I’m so sorry! When was this?
M: No, I mean I gave birth to both of my kids early. Technically I’ve never carried a baby to term.


Yes, M did have her kids early. Her first was a month early, and her second was six weeks early. I don’t want to take away from the fact that it must have been incredibly scary for her to go into labor before she was expecting to. But both of her kids are FINE. Neither of them had to stay in the NICU. Neither of them have any problems as a result of being born early. Both of her kids weighed over 7lbs when they were born. So let’s recap: M, two pregnancies, two healthy kids. Sarah: 1 pregnancy, zero kids. TOTALLY APPROPRIATE TO COMPARE.

Scenario Two:
I have an aunt, let’s call her Aunt L, who lives in the same city as I do. She is my Mom’s late brother’s wife. I have a long history with her, as I lived with her and my uncle when I first moved to the city. Even after I moved out of their house, I stayed in the neighborhood and we hung out a lot. I was also her favorite as a kid. She would invite me over for a sleepover, while pointedly excluding my sister (which, as an adult, I can see is totally fucked up. As a kid, I thought it was awesome). Anyway, that’s all to show you why I put up with her incredibly insensitive comments. Shortly before Tammy and I had our first IUI (almost a year ago, OMFG) I told Aunt L that we were going to be trying. I sincerely wish that I hadn’t said anything, because she asks every single time she sees me – including at Christmas when she GRABBED MY STOMACH and asked if there were any babies in there.

Anyway, when I saw Aunt L this weekend, she asked how the baby making was going and I told her that we were doing IVF next month. Here’s how that exchange went:

SARAH: …so we’re going to do IVF next month.
AUNT L: Oh, you don’t need that!
SARAH: Actually, to have a baby it looks like I do. I’ve talked with my doctor about it, and this is the best way forward.
AUNT L: You just need to relax! I know TONS of people who adopted and then got pregnant right away!
SARAH: Actually, that’s an old wives’ tale. And, even if that were the case, we can’t exactly try at home.
AUNT L: [not listening] You know what you should do? I saw this program on Anderson Cooper a while back, where men donated sperm for free! Like, you just meet them somewhere and they hand you some sperm. You should try that!
SARAH: Ummm. I like my sperm disease free, thanks. Also, sperm is not the issue. There’s something wrong with me, but we don’t know what. My doctor said it’s unexplained.
AUNT L: Oh, I don’t believe in all that!
SARAH: … Yeah, my uterus doesn’t believe it either (??)jackie-chan-wtf-face-i16

Look, I get it. People don’t know what to say about a reproductive system that doesn’t work…quite…right. People are uncomfortable talking about sex in general (throw in LESBIAN sex, and let’s not even go there). We like to genteelly ignore the whole P in V aspect (if that’s your kind of dish) and just focus on cuddly cute babies. But infertility and ART forces people to discuss it, and people seem to lose what little tact they possessed to begin with. For an added bonus, throw in a little miscarriage – wheee!!! NOW we’re having fun!

Fuckin’ A, man. Family. I was trying to be open about our struggles to help end the stigmatization of infertility. Clearly I didn’t do so well for team IF. I didn’t say anything rude in response, but that was only because I was so busy scraping my jaw off the floor. I fear that next time I’ll actually get something out, and it might not be pretty. Any suggestions on how to handle these kinds of comments in the future?

12 thoughts on “Today, on “Obnoxious Family Members”

  1. Ugh, I can’t believe the conversation with your cousin and you. Wow. Maybe she was nervous and babbled away without realizing? That or she needs to learn some sensitivity. Those two situations are definitely NOT comparable. Hang in there.

  2. OMG, so crazy! I see that you have a bit of a sense of humor about it though with the Obama and Chan photos. As much as I’ve wanted to open up to my family about it, it’s not “safe” because they don’t respond appropriately to what I need so I’m keeping a low profile about it. Sorry to hear of your troubles, but you never know, if you relax you may just get pregnant- HA! because lesbians have sperm now? 😉 Hang in there!

  3. People say this kind of stuff ALL THE TIME. They are trying to be helpful. Your cousin was trying to relate – to make you feel like you are not alone. And you’re aunt was trying to ease your worries about what might be wrong with you. But when you are in the trenches, these comments aren’t helpful. They’re invalidating. And there isn’t a whole lot to do about it. I just try to remember that they have our best interest in mind. And they don’t know what to say so they say this. And they have no idea what it is like to me on my end of things. It’s hard. So eventually you learn who responds in a way that you find helpful and who doesn’t. And then you keep the conversation between you and the ones who say things that make you feel better and not worse.

  4. I like to do the over dramatic “ouch” as most people don’t realize they are being insensitive. Then if they still don’t see it, I go into graphic detail to make them uncomfortable so they don’t ask me again. Not the most mature approach but it makes me feel better and I giggle to myself as they walk away.

  5. Someday, when I am out of my current situation and can spend my free time doing more than researching, organizing medical records, and going to doctor’s appointments, I am going to write a book about all of the stupid, assinine, completely f’ed up stuff people say to us. And I am going to contact you for your (anonymous) contribution. Because this…this leaves me speechless. What is wrong with people? Would I say such hurtful idiotic things if I were in their shoes? I sometimes wonder. What stupefies me, at times, is that some of the people who have hurt me the most with their comments are some of the smartest, most empathetic people I know. Feeling your pain, loving your sense of humor.

  6. 2 things most annoying about infertility- no getting pregnant and family members that JUST DON’T GET IT! Not sure which out ranks which, but I feel for ya! My mom has had a really hard time understanding, saying it will happen when it will and not to rush it…
    This is why people say not to judge bc YOU JUST CAN’T KNOW! Sorry you have to go through this!

  7. It is quite possible that your loved ones just flat out don’t understand how hurtful their comments, questions and gestures are. I’ve found that the only people who truly understand the feelings of isolation and agony associated with infertility are only those who have experienced it first-hand. I’ve stopped talking to most of my family and close friends about my own struggle with infertility, because whether they mean to or not, they almost always manage to say the wrong thing, especially at those times when I’m feeling the most vulnerable. I have found the following article immensely helpful in expressing what I desperately want to explain to them, but cannot find my own words for. In moments where I feel like snapping at an insensitive person, it has saved and strengthened those relationships and given them a basic understanding of how they can be supportive:

  8. Wow! Your cousin’s comment reminds me of my sister’s first response– comparing my two early miscarriages (and no children) to her trying for four months before getting pregnant with a healthy baby. SO glad these people get us!
    It’s true that most people are just trying to somehow relate to us (they probably shouldn’t) and make us feel “normal.” But to me, it’s like telling someone with cancer that you know how they feel because you had a hangnail once. It’s offensive and hurtful.
    From what I can tell, the insensitive comments will never cease to exist. But at least with those close to us, I do think pointing out the facts (without showing anger or blaming) is helpful to both the other person and to your own sanity.

  9. So many stupid people around these days. And I wonder how much you have to pay for a cup of black market sperm? you should get her to organise a purchase and go pick it up for you, and film it and put it on youtube. It would be hilarious.

  10. Don’t give up on them yet. And don’t beat yourself up just because the conversations didn’t go well. You took an important first step, now you can continue to educate them, slowly. It takes a lot of patience (yeah, I know it’s unfair that WE have to be patient with THEM, when it’s OUR infertility, but that’s just how it is) to teach someone about this stuff. My own family understands, and doesn’t say inappropriate things. In fact, they don’t say much of anything. When I mentioned to my mom and sister that my husband and I had the IVF talk with the doctor, all they could manage was “Oh.” No questions about the process, or how it made me feel. I know they probably just don’t know what to say, but sometimes saying nothing is worse than saying stupid things. Saying nothing is pretty much the same as saying “I don’t care.”

  11. wow! and I thought I’d had a tough Easter monday with inappropriate comments from my inlaws (see recent blog post!!) jeez….when did everyone get so useless?!!!

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